Mortality and Happiness

March 3rd is a massive day. Today is the 2nd anniversary of a tragic event that took the lives of the parents of a dear friend of Maria’s (my partner). Last weekend, a member of our family collapsed on a basketball court, and save for the good fortune of having paramedics within minutes, we would have lost him. This afternoon he has open heart surgery, he is 25 years old. In a nearby hospital, also this afternoon, my friend and fellow Ergo director Derek, and his wife Caroline will welcome their 5th child into the world. Little wonder I find myself thinking about life and mortality this morning.

Death, serious illness and new-birth tend to focus the attention on what matters most. I remember visiting some friends in hospital after they’d had their first child. As Jane looked out the window at the people heading off to work and going about their regular days, she wanted to lean out and yell at them, “How dare you go to work as normal, I’ve just had a baby! (the world has changed)”.

So if things like this focus our attention on what matters, we would do well to retain the focus. Last week I mused about future trends, but the stuff that really matters tends to stay constant. In the scheme of things, technology and social evolutions hardly register on the scale.

I’ve been thinking about happiness. Most serious discussions about things that matter I’ve been involved in usually include lofty values like peace and justice. Absolutely. But what about happiness? Happiness sounds a bit light and fluffy. But I’m going to stick up my hand and say, “I want to be happy.’ At the end of the day, whatever else is going on, I want to be happy.

Now, I’m not talking about the ‘smile and everything will be OK’ approach to life. It’s a kind of deep happiness! I’m sure the peculiarities of personality and life circumstances make it different for different people, but for me, I’d say the foundations for happiness include:

  • 1. doing enjoyable things with people who love me and who I love
  • 2. inner peace: is my conscience clear, am I being true to my understanding of truth & goodness?

So, what’s this got to do with business. Everything. Because there is no business without people. Sometimes our behaviour suggests that the most important thing in life is our work. Not so. I can’t remember a single conversation with someone who says they regret the time they spend cultivating relationships and having good times with their loved ones and wished they had spent more time at the office.

The paradox is that when we invest in doing good stuff with our loved ones and commit to going to sleep each night with a clear conscience, our lives become richer and our work reaps the benefits. As I heard a prominent company CEO say, ‘the problem is not work life balance, the problem is that too many people don’t have a life.’

There are two proverbial realities to keep in tension. The first is to be wise, to invest in the future. The second is that today is all we’ve got – it invites us to live it as if it is our last. It’s not about a balance between these. Both are always fully formative.

So, today is a massive day. Full of life and death. I can’t do much about the later. I can do heaps about the former.